"Agh!" Sharon spun around, shocked, wondering how she'd suddenly become covered in icy cold droplets of water from a now crystal clear blue sky.
"Oh!" She stood still, stunned as another arc of water flew through the air and landed on the front of her red T-shirt. Bending forward she peered between the boxes stacked in the back of the car in front. It was as she thought. Kids were sitting in the front seat of the station wagon. The car's brake lights were on; the window wipers were on, the radio blaring out some kind of nasty sounding rock music. Sharon ducked low behind the dirty white car as another long jet of water flew through the air.
"Oh darn!" He grimaced as the water hit him full force in the chest. "I was just coming to see what all the commotion was. This water's freezing!" He crouched down beside her, noticing a tiny dimple on her left cheek as she grinned.
"Aye," her English flat voweled Cumbrian accent prominent. "I noticed."
"Do you do this often?" His strong square jaw widened as his whole face smiled. The wrinkles beside his brown eyes deepened.
"It's the first time this trip," she smiled. "I think the kids are getting bored with waiting for the ferry to arrive."
"Oh well, it shouldn't be too much longer. The 'Arahura' has just left, which means the 'Awatere' will be here soon. She knew he was talking about the huge blue and white ferry that she'd watched leave the wharf. "I think it's all clear now, come on let's move before they start the waterfall again." He reached for her hand, then helped her move away from the rear of the car.
"Whew, I thought I'd be stuck there forever."
"Nah, somebody would have come to your rescue. I wonder though where the kid's parents are. They seem to be alone in the car. I hope the keys aren't in there." As he spoke, he walked to the driver's door.
"Hello," Sharon looked at him curiously as his voice held surprise. "Is everything okay?"
A tiny woman in the driver's seat turned her tired expression towards them, "Yes everything is fine. The kids are getting a bit antsy though. Do you know how much longer the ferry will be?"
"No love, I've no idea. It shouldn't be too long though. Hang in there." His kind smile was mirrored in her face.
"Come on dear, let's stretch our legs for a bit." He left the woman and her children in the car and almost dragged Sharon along the tarmac.
"Hey, don't pull me so hard," she protested. "I'm coming."
"Oh sorry. I didn't realise. Are you okay?" He turned to check she was all right.
"Yes I'm fine," she said as she wrenched her hand from his then pulled at the waistband of her jeans.
"Hmm you look fine to me too." The grin was back. "By the way, my name is Mike."
She took his hand saying "Sharon."
"Are you here for long Sharon?" he asked.
"Oh you picked the accent I guess. People have been doing that to me all holiday so far. There must be something unusual about the English. I'm here for another week and a half. I'm on a travelling holiday." She smiled, then wondered if she should have given him all that information.
"That's wonderful. How much of our beautiful country have you managed to see?"
"I've been driving part way around the South Island for the last week. I arrived in Christchurch, drove across the island through Arthur's Pass, over to Westport. Stayed there for a couple of nights, then drove back over the Pass and came here via the East Coast route."
"Wow that's a whole heap of driving you've been doing. What did you think of our Southern Alps?"
"The Alps were beautiful. Picture postcard perfect you might say." Delight in the scenery showed in her face as she looked at him.
Sharon felt sure she saw his chest swell. Ah, kiwi pride, she thought smiling to herself.
"Yep we've a mighty fine country here. Oh look, here's the ferry. Time to get back into the cars. Fancy meeting me for a coffee on board?" His dark busy eyebrows rose in question.
"Aye, I'd like that."
Waiting for him in the dining lounge, she felt like a schoolgirl. She had a tingling excited feeling that made her want to giggle. For goodness sake Sharon, you're thirty years old, not thirteen, she admonished herself. What was she doing? She was the practical one. Now she seemed to have fallen in love at first sight with a total stranger. It was absurd and impractical; she had to return home in less than a fortnight's time.
"Hi again." His hand brushed her shoulder as he squeezed his large fit frame between the table and the back of the seat, bringing her abruptly out of her reverie.
"Would you like that coffee now, or when we start moving?"
"I'd like to get one later if that's all right with you. Let's go out to the bow of the ship. I want a better view of the Sounds." Even as she suggested going to the bow, images of Kate Winslow and Leonardo De Caprio's Titanic scene washed through her mind.
"Okay with me," he smiled. "Come along then, let's go."
When they reached the bow, she stood as close to the rail as she could, then raised her arms. He smiled, moved behind her and placed his hands on her waist. "So, you're also a Titanic fan?"
Sharon sighed in pleasure then melted back against his body. "I don't know how people can live in cities when the country is so utterly beautiful."
"There's beauty everywhere, you just need to know how to see it."
She turned to look at him. He stared ahead as she drew strength from his profile. His dark sideburn caught her attention; a tiny curl had twisted and was against his cheek. Without thought she reached up and smoothed the recalcitrant hair.
He turned, his mouth swooped down to hers and he kissed her before she had time to react. Her eyes flew open, staring into his as he deepened the kiss. All thoughts disappeared from her mind when his tongue slipped inside her mouth and without thinking she had responded, her tongue engaging his. When he lifted his head, she was too surprised to speak. "I needed that. I wanted to kiss you from the moment my eyes saw you standing in shock with your wet clothes."
Sharon stepped back from him, looking down and self consciously straightening her clothes. She played for time, her mind in turmoil. Were her hopes, her dreams becoming a reality? Get a grip on yourself girl she growled inwardly. You've known him five minutes. You're just another tourist. Maybe he enjoys quick flings. When she peeped up, she found him looking straight at her, waiting for her to speak.
"I can't believe you did that." She spoke in a low voice. Other travellers had begun to invade the bow and the whirring of their cameras made her realise they weren't alone.
Mike watched her embarrassment as it bloomed up her neck colouring her face. He was a little surprised that he'd kissed her, equally surprised to see her blush. No woman he knew ever blushed. He'd figured evolution and women's liberation had eradicated that becoming flush from women.
Wanting to give her space, he held her by the shoulders, placed her by the railing, then stood behind her, a protective shield from the other passengers.
Grateful for the reprieve, she set her eyes on the tiny island just out from Picton Port, a little startled as she realised the ship had already begun to move away from the wharf. She hadn't heard the ship's siren, her flush deepened. What on earth had possessed her to let him kiss her in full view of the other passengers like that? She had to admit though, the kiss felt wonderful. Her lips still tingled. Her body trembled afresh when the ship rolled over throwing him against her.
They stood close together for a lengthy time, becoming comfortable with each other. The relaxed feeling soon turned into tense muscles, shallow breathing and quickening pulses as the movement of the ship caused rough friction between their bodies. His arms had somehow moved to hold her around her waist, his leather jacket protected her from the increasing wind. The deck had almost cleared, most of the other passengers had left and gone inside for warm drinks.
One person suddenly shouted. Sharon and Mike both looked to where he pointed, surprised to see a dolphin leap from the water right in front of the ship. Mike grabbed his camera. Sharon watched with delight as the small school of dolphin played, and she watched Mike as he took photo after photo. All too soon, the dolphins moved to the side of the ship continuing to play in the wake.
Sharon's eyes had widened in astonishment; she had seen dolphins playing on television documentaries but had never in her wildest dream thought she would witness the spectacle. "Oh no!" she wailed. "I left my camera in my camper. I'm stupid. I'm always missing great photos like that."
"Don't worry. If the pictures come out okay, I'll let you have some prints."
"Really? You'd do that for me? I'd pay you for them."
"Hey, I'm no professional. Remember, I said 'if'. They might not come out, but if they do, I'll give you the prints."
They settled down keeping an eye out in case another school of dolphins arrived to play. Sooner than either of them expected, the open sea could be seen crashing on the rocks at the opening of Queen Charlotte Sounds. The ship rolled a little more and they both decided it might be better to travel across Cook Strait from inside.
Mike bought their coffees and they found a spot next to a starboard window. The motion of the rolling ship increased as they headed out into the open ocean. Sharon concentrated hard on the view of the land, her stomach rolled uncomfortably.
"It's okay," Mike smiled as his hand covered hers. "It'll be over soon," he reassured her.
"Hmm I hope so. I don't think I'm such a great sailor. Please take my mind off the sea. Tell me something about yourself. What work do you do?"
"Oh I teach Outdoor Pursuits. I work with special needs kids when they're at camp," he smiled as he saw her look of astonishment.
"Special needs kids go camping?"
"Heck yes! Even wheelchair bound kids enjoy camping out. It's hard work and the money's lousy, but I love it."
"You must be a special person."
"Thanks, but I'm no more special than anyone else. I love my work, that's all."
"Where are you based?"
"Oh I travel around. I've just finished a pre-winter camp in Christchurch. Now I'm heading up to a campsite near Auckland. I'll be there for the rest of winter."
She clutched the side of the table with her free hand as the ship rolled again.
"Whew, now I know why people have cringed when I mentioned I was crossing on the ferry. Is it always like this?" she asked.
"Nope. Sometimes it's worse," he grinned. "Don't worry, we'll soon be in Wellington Harbour. It's much calmer there."
"God I hope I don't die before then." Her face paling further, she held the coffee cup in one hand spilling a little as she brought it to her mouth. She sipped at the scolding liquid, grimacing, but thankful that the pain of the burn was greater than the nausea in her stomach.
"What work do you do?" She glanced up at his unexpected question.
"I used to be an office temp. I had great keyboard skills," she smiled as she told him. "This last year though, I've been working from home doing a little typing when I've had time. I'm looking after my mother, she hasn't been very well since my father died."
"Oh I'm so sorry to hear that. Is she very ill?"
"I think she's more heartbroken than anything. She needs company. My younger sister, Jane, is taking care of her. The university holidays are now and she has three months off. She's studying to be a teacher. She offered to look after mother for a month while I take a break."
"Wow, nice sister. You must be thankful she's around."
"Well, she's just a sister. We get along all right. She does her thing and I do mine. But she's a honey for giving me a break. Although she's my mother and I love her, being a full time carer is very demanding physically. Emotionally I was going crazy."
"Yes I can understand it's hard work. I'm glad that she was able to give you a break. And, I'm glad you decided to come to this part of the world." With tenderness, he caressed the back of her hand.
"Where are you heading for once we land in Wellington?" Mike seemed anxious to know.
"I'm not sure, I have nothing booked."
"I have a proposition for you, if you're interested."
Her left eyebrow rose as she tilted her head to one side and listened.
"I wondered if you would like to experience a New Zealand camping trip. You could bring your camper van and sleep in that instead of having to rough it in a tent though." He watched as she mulled the thought over in her head.
"When do you have to be there?"
"Tomorrow, ready to start work the day after."
"Where were you planning on staying tonight?"
"Well, I figured that as the sailing hasn't been too bad," he grinned as she squirmed. Then went on, "I thought I could drive fairly easily to Taupo."
"Hmm, Taupo? That's a long drive. I'm not sure I can cope with that distance."
"Oh it's no worse than driving from Christchurch to Picton in a day. Pretty easy travelling."
"Hmm." She bowed her head, thinking through her plans. She had thought to stay the night in Wellington, then drive to the west coast following the coast road up the country. By the same token, she didn't feel it was a good idea to pass up being able to spend more time with Mike. She needed to know how deep his feelings were towards her. She wanted to know if there was a remote chance that he loved her, as she loved...
Sharon stopped her thoughts as the full impact of her feelings swamped her. She loved him. How could that have happened in such a short time? She had met him less than four hours earlier. Perhaps she should take the risk, go with him. How else would she find love in her life? Her mother needed constant care. Her social life was non-existent. She realised how time was marching on, her biological clock ticking incessantly.
Mike wondered if Sharon realised the emotions were flitting across her face one after another.
She squeezed his hand, "Yes, I'll come to camp with you."